Author Archives: Scott Kaufman

November 10, 2009, 4:10 pm

The cost of freedom.

On this day in 1989, once everyone stopped patting themselves on the back for bringing down the Berlin Wall, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney lamented what East German freedom would do to defense contractors in the pages of the Wall Street Journal:


October 12, 2009, 3:24 pm

The increasingly forgettable work of Malcolm Gladwell

G.D. pointed out the latest Gladwell article to me, and now that I’ve read it, I’m at a loss for words: rarely in the history of long-form journalism has the pitch been more obvious or the product more strained. Gladwell decided to write an article on violence in the National Football Leauge, went to his editor with his Vick-topical article and was told to run with it. The problem, of course, is that the entire article boils down to this question:

Is [football] dogfighting or is it stock-car racing?

And that question, I think we can agree, makes little sense for the simple reason that its analogy isn’t analogous. I know that blunt counterintuitive statements are a hallmark of literary journalism, but they need to be founded on something more substantial than this:

[I]s the kind of [tau deposit-induced dementia] being uncovered by McKee and Omalu [in former NFL players] incidental to…

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September 23, 2009, 7:12 pm


Should you ever be interviewed by The History Channel in your office, it would be best not to have the Wikipedia entry for the topic about which they are interviewing you clearly visible on your monitor.  Have a little faith in your expertise or dignity enough to close that damn tab.*

*Shamelessly stolen from my own Facebook note of a couple days past, but posted here because some member of the increasingly Duggar-esque family of The History Channel networks repeated the episode of Mega Movers in which I first noticed it . . . and because it’s sound advice.

September 21, 2009, 1:51 pm

Conservatives are outraged over an actual outrage? Color me impressed.

It may have taken awhile, but thanks to Patrick Courrielche’s exposé at, of all places, Big Hollywood, conservatives are positively fuming over the Bush Administrations decision to funnel $2.2 billion through the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives into programs that specifically support the President’s ideological and policy commitments, like the Abstinence Education Program, designed to “enable states to provide abstinence education and mentoring, counseling, and adult supervision to promote abstinence from sexual activity.”

Conservatives are rightly upset with a speech Bush delivered at the 2004 White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, in which he said “[i]t’s hard to be a faith-based program if you can’t practice faith [and] the message to you is, we’re changing the culture here in America.”

“It’s hard to read his comments …

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September 19, 2009, 4:10 pm

Be nice, now. The English language is not Ed Morrissey’s strong suit, and he at least makes a show of reining in the racist comments he knowingly baits from his audience.

It seems Mr. Ed Morrissey caught President Obama fibbing again. See, Michelle Obama said this:

I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that she would not stop crying. And she was not a crier, so we knew something was wrong. So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning. He examined her and same something’s wrong. We didn’t know what. But he told us that she could have meningitis. So we were terrified. He said, get to the emergency room right away.

Which the New York Times reported thus:

In her speech, Mrs. Obama also told the story of how her daughter Sasha would not stop crying when she was 4 months old. A doctor’s visit revealed she might have meningitis; she ultimately did not, but the illness produced a scare.

So far, so consistent: something was wrong with Sasha Obama; she was brought to a pediatrician;…

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September 17, 2009, 5:15 pm

He may have said, “[w]e need segregated buses,” but that doesn’t mean he’s a racist. (This, however, does.)

For purely academic reasons, I’ve never understood the argument that we should ignore Rush Limbaugh because he’s simply an entertainer who says outrageous things that millions of people are merely entertained by.  I didn’t read the complete works of Silas Weir Mitchell because they were good—they are almost uniformly awful—I read them because they were popular.  I was interested not in the content of his thought—it is almost uniformly mediocre—but in why his contemporaries found it so wildly appealing.  If you want to learn which ideas and ideologies literate Americans in 1900 found comforting, you do not consult Henry James: you turn to the inartistic novels that parroted their prejudices back to them in a language they already understood.  So when people say that we should dismiss Limbaugh on the grounds that he only says outrageous things to sell his product, I’m never …

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September 15, 2009, 6:47 pm

Language is revealing that Dan Riehl is a racist.

(Up to the dating: The stupid, it along the lines of burns!)

Via someone named “davenoon,” I learn that someone named Dan Riehl recently encountered some black people who “were technically thugs.” What did these “technically thug[gish]” black people do? “There was no confrontation,” Riehl informs his readers, but “there were maybe ten or so” of them in the bus, which is about nine or so more than is required to trigger a flight-or-flight response in folks like Riehl. Somehow, he managed to keep it together long enough to hear what these “pretty young, not that big” black “kids” were saying, which he transcribed for the sensitive ears of his readers thusly:

Without resorting to the poor diction it was along the lines of, these are the people who think Obama is the anti-Christ.

Why these “pretty young, not that big [black kids who] were technically thugs” resorted along the lines of …

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September 10, 2009, 2:47 pm

Thank you, Joe Wilson, for demonstrating that conservatives want life to imitate Idiocracy.

South Carolina today, South Carolina tomorrow:


September 7, 2009, 3:34 pm

Dr. Seuss on the Current State of the Blogosphere.

(By request, the parody of this beloved book that originally appeared in the historical novel thread.)

What do I know about tweeting bloggers? Well . . .


September 4, 2009, 3:31 pm

Historical novels, underrated or no, are only ever incidentally historical.

In the comments to Eric’s post about underrated historical novels, I pointed out that there is a problem with talking about the “historical novel” as a self-evident genre. I did not, however, go into much detail as to why, because I covered the topic on my qualifying exams and the less said about that experience the better. But since Eric asked so nicely, I will oblige and show you why this discussion’s so painfully tangled.

Short version: Its knots all sport thorns.

Long pedantic version:


September 3, 2009, 4:27 am

“Critics are skeptical . . .”

Only they aren’t: they’re critical.

The word “skeptical” functions as a subject complement in this clause.  The particular complement here is a predicate adjective: the adjective “skeptical” describes an attribute of the subject “critics.”  But hidden beneath that grammatical nicety is an utter falsehood.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “critic” is “one who pronounces judgment on any thing or person; esp. one who passes severe or unfavorable judgment; a censurer, fault-finder, caviller.”  Someone who is “skeptical,” however, is “inclined or imbued with [an] attitude of doubt or incredulity as to the truth of some assertion or supposed fact.”  Because a critic has already pronounced a severe or unfavorable judgment, he can no longer be considered an honest skeptic because he has ceased doubting by acting upon truths not in evidence.

Dishonest skeptics, then, would…

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August 31, 2009, 3:49 pm

The content of a eulogy is a function of the life being eulogized.

After I linked to his post about Ted Kennedy’s funeral, Patrick asked what I’d think were the grandchild of a hypothetical conservative to say this at the funeral:

Dear God, for what my grandpa called the causes of his life, the privatization of social security and the construction a robust missile defense shield, we pray to the Lord.

My response, as indicated by the title, is that funerals are about the lives of the deceased, and if the deceased was a Senator who devoted his life to privatizing social security and constructing a robust missile defense shield, I’d have no problem with those issues being raised at his funeral. But it would sound tacky, not because I disagree with those policy initiatives, but because this hypothetical conservative dedicated his life to wonky policy initiatives. Were those initiatives less wonky, the prayer would sound less tacky. Consider:

Dear God,…

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August 30, 2009, 3:02 pm

Yet again, Jack Cashill proves why the country needs more actual literary critics.

Jack Cashill, who received a Ph.D. in American Studies in 1982 then promptly forget everything he learned earning it, has returned with more evidence that my assessment of him (“an idiot of long-standing“) was correct.  He accuses Michiko Kakutani of plagiarizing his 2008 blockbuster, “The Improvised Odyssey of Barack Obama,” and begins his defense of this claim as one does: by demonstrating that William Ayers is familiar with Homer’s Odyssey.

Ayers knows his Homer. In his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, for instance, he specifically identified the Odyssey’s “Cyclops” as a metaphor for the “doomed and helpless” United States. “Picture an oversized, somewhat dim-witted monster, greedy and capricious,” Ayers wrote in his uniquely patriotic way, “its eyes put out by fiery stakes and now flailing in a blind rage, smashing its way through villages and over mountains.”

If, as Cashill hopes to…

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August 29, 2009, 7:18 pm

Next week, George Nash will bemoan the fact that we’ve never had a white President.

I ignore those who insist that there’s something untoward about discussing the life’s work of a man at his own funeral—they can begin with his 1970 Health Security Act and work their way forward to the Kennedy-Dodd bill of 2009 on their own. I decline, that is, to say that had I insisted on codifying my ideological commitments in a Senate bill a month before my passing, I would have done so because those commitments were so important to me in life that I wanted them to define my death. Because, in the end, giving one’s natural death to a cherished cause differs from dying for it only by dint of circumstance and timing: to accomplish with one’s death what one fought for in life is the wish of the true believer, and there is nothing untoward in that.  But, as I said, there will be none of that.

Instead, I will marvel at the stentorian stupidity of George H. Nash, who received a degree…

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August 28, 2009, 1:01 pm

Where does the new plagiarism come from?

By which I mean: what specific sites/forums/IRC chat rooms do students use to find people willing to produce “original” works of scholarship?  When I search for such services online, all I find is an endless sea of spam.  There must be somewhere—perhaps localized at the level of individual schools—that students go to make these sorts of arrangements.  Would it not be incredibly useful for instructors to know what those sites/forums/IRC chat rooms are? (And isn’t it odd that there hasn’t already been some sort of collective effort to create a list of this type?)

If you know the locations of some of these sites, I would love it if you left the address in the comment or send me an email (scotterickaufman at gmail dot com).  Anonymous is fine.  I want to create a sort of master list so I can play Leverage in my spare time because I’m curious.

UPDATE 1. The answer, from my initial…

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